We arrived at Nice, where we picked up a Clio estate after a false start with a fiat. We shoe horned the bike cases into the boot. It wasn't exactly commodious. There was barely enough room for anything more. He had booked a Focus estate, but the hire company advised that they had none. Breach of contract I would have said (or check the small print), if my French had been any better.
Nice is mega busy. Its getting a new tram down the high street just behind the promenade, and trying to find a parking space late at night was a near impossibility. At least their tram looked like it went somewhere useful. It's chaos in the town.
The next morning we took off after a coffee and croissant to Jouliers, a two hour drive into the Alps. We parked the car in the village and after a pretend steak (reconstituted mince) and sad flaccid chips washed down with tea au lait, we set off up the Bonette. This is the highest mountain pass in the French Alps at 9000ft above sea level (three times Ben Nevis, nearly). As a relative lightweight, I was soon some way ahead of my buddy and climbing steadily on smooth roads. These climbs are long steady drags with frequent zig-zags to reduce the gradient. They were formed so that you could get your horse and cart over the mountain in yon olden days, so nothing desperately steep or arduous. However, this beast went on and on; and on and on. I spent 2 solid hours going up into the sky. I noticed the air getting thinner near the top (who wants fat air anyway?). My breathing became a little more laboured. I imagined, at one point, a grey tree stump looking like a wolf. There are no houses or cafes at the top. It looks like the moon. It's deserted. It also blows a hoolie on the crest.
|Promenading with the new mash up jersey at Izoard|
'Froid?' inquired the bar man as we order coke and hot choc. and huddled round the cups for warmth.
The next day we chose an easier ride and biked 20 miles up an old gorge near Briancon, but there's nought flat about the Alps and even this ride was testing. The next day after a glass or three of wine and another burger in the evening, we attempted Izoard. The sky was blue and as I climbed it was quite a contrast to Bonette. It took only 1:40 for the climb to the summit. The roads over there are smooth for the most part and it was a delight. I had a teary moment at the top, before manning up and rattling off a few photos. I even had the bravado to drop back down a kilometre to meet Mr M coming up. Descending was exhilarating and back into town, it was hot and sunny. We sat on the kerb and feasted on ham,brie,baguette and plum tomatoes. This was our lunch every day.
Later in the day, we drove to Les Deux Alpes, a ski resort at 6000ft. There had been snow on the peaks the night before and things were decidedly chilly. We were not far from Alpe D'Huez. I could hear the metamorphic behemoth growling down the valley as we approached our hotel. The resort was surprisingly large with more than a mile of high street, but it was truly deserted. Thankfully we found a great restaurant (Le Rustique) and spent two nights at the resort. We rode the back of Le Galibier on the Sunday and met a couple from Oregon and a bunch of lads from Cork. It was brassicks though.
The threat from Huez was regrettably enough to scare us back to Digne Les Bains, back down toward Nice the next day. We took a back road for a low intensity spin and still ended up finding Le Col de Corobin at the end. It was then onto Nice, our final day. Huez will have to be tamed on another trip. Before our late flight we managed 20 miles up and down the flat and balmy sea front. We dodged other bikies, joe public, suicide scooterists and flash cars with even flashier occupants. I welcomed the easy ride. I had developed a sore knee, maybe not surprising after 18000ft of climbing in the week.
I have a 2 stage hill climb at Gateshead tomorrow. Plenty of altitude, but I can be fairly sure there'll be no snow at least. Next time, I think I might give Huez a go, but perhaps in June.